Tenant organizers discuss rent relief programs.
Faith in Action community leaders, low-income families and elders, local clergy and congregation members ask Supervisors to fund local rent relief at a meeting on Wednesday in the Mission. Photo by Clara-Sophia Daly. Taken June 24, 2021.

When a Bayview resident heard the governor say the state would pay rent for tenants who suffered in the pandemic, she figured she was a shoo-in. She lost her business during Covid-19 and missed 23 months of rent. Nonetheless, months later, the state denied her application. 

“Why? If I’m behind in rent, if I’m behind in PG&E, if I’m behind in water, because of this pandemic, why didn’t I get help?” said Ms. Ross, who asked that her full name be withheld because of the stigma attached to getting aid. “I gave [the state] all the documentation needed, and they still denied me.”

When Ross asked why, a state employee explained she was unresponsive to an email they sent. But the program sent the notice to the wrong email address, Ross said. She is appealing the decision, which a tenant must do within 30 days.  

Ross is one of 144,000 statewide whose applications for rent relief have been declined, according to the state housing department. Overall, some 320,000 households were approved, amounting to $3.7 billion. A study by the National Equity Atlas suggests thousands of San Franciscans, about 29 percent, have been denied. 

Sharon Herrera, who runs the Latino Task Force’s rent relief distribution, calls it “a wave of denials.” Almost 20 percent of the 1,037 applications that Mission, Excelsior, and Bayview residents filled out in the Latino Task Force Hub by mid-May were rejected. Most are low-income residents who lost work in the pandemic; in theory, the target population for the program. 

The reasons? Of the 144,000 denied, 60 percent were deemed “ineligible.” This could mean a resident who is “not actually a tenant,” someone who earned too much income, or someone who was living in an area that wasn’t a part of the program, according to Nur Kausar, a California housing department spokesperson. Some cities opted out of the state program and offered a local program instead. 

The state program requires a written lease agreement to qualify for relief, but many subtenants who applied are subtenants, or don’t have a lease for other reasons, Herrera said. 

Another 38 percent of the 144,000 rejected applicants were, like Ross, “unresponsive” when state officials asked follow-up questions or for extra documents, Kausar said in an email. 

Herrera said that most of the Task Force’s rejected applications fell into the category of  “unresponsive” applicants, but she argued that the follow-up was inadequate for any number of reasons. In Ross’s case, the wrong email was used. Others may have received the email in English, but can only read Spanish or another foreign language. 

“It’s really difficult,” Herrera said. “It’s not the tenants’ fault that they were not able to get this assistance.” 

Herrera also questioned whether the state ever contacted some of their applicants. The state “says they have attempted to contact the tenant multiple times. We don’t have evidence of that. There are no text messages, or calls, so many are confused and don’t understand why [they] have a denial,” Herrera said. 

Kausar noted the program can follow up in multiple languages. However, the program has received discrimination complaints for the failure to address the needs of monolingual immigrants and disabled residents. 

Meanwhile, Mission and Bayview residents are facing “a lot” of eviction warnings, community advocates said. So far, it’s unclear how many have escalated to eviction court, though organizers believe it’s few.

Kamillah Ealom, who runs the rent relief program for Mission Neighborhood Centers in the Bayview, estimated that about 10 percent of her applicants had been denied. While many applicants received three-day eviction notices, she said, “people being put on the streets, that’s not happening. We’re in an unexpected grace period.”

State lawmakers declared that any person with a rent relief application that needs review is exempt from eviction until July 1. If an application is rejected and not appealed, there are no protections. 

Herrera and Ealom have encouraged tenants to appeal their rejections and apply for local rent relief in the meantime. More than 130 tenants applied for the local program, Ealom said, and 64 have been paid. The local program offers relief for rent owed from April 1, 2022, and beyond, not the months covered by the state rent relief program.

Some organizers, like Saudia Shaw at Young Communities Developers, which works with both state and local rent relief, are confident the state will pay everyone by July 1. “From what I’ve been seeing, their turnaround has been a lot faster than I’ve seen before,” she said. 

As for Ross, the state has asked her to send another letter from her landlord and another copy of her lease. She is hopeful, but feels the program makes it hard for tenants to access it. “They are making it impossible for people to get help,” Ross said. 

This story was produced with support from USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism 2022 California Fellowship.

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REPORTER. Annika Hom is our inequality reporter through our partnership with Report for America. Annika was born and raised in the Bay Area. She previously interned at SF Weekly and the Boston Globe where she focused on local news and immigration. She is a proud Chinese and Filipina American. She has a twin brother that (contrary to soap opera tropes) is not evil.

Follow her on Twitter at @AnnikaHom.

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  1. I put my appeal in last September of 2021. Still says 25.appeal submitted. And no information that is initiated from them or correspondence from anyone and when I contact by phone I get told everything is good just be patient. It is horrible sitting on the edge of eviction . why are they taking almost a year and nothing?

  2. Yes well I was approved about 8 most ago and they took it away and I found out about 1 1/2 mos ago that I had been denied…… What’s right about that? It all turned upside down when I had a conversation with my caseworker and had a fallen out because of a durogitory statement she made to me” Mr. Dunbarr you shouldn’t just sit around and wait for the state to pay your rent” was her exact words. Now you tell me what qualifies her tosay such athing?

  3. I got help with my rent but when it came to the utilities, they say I never submitted any bills for my utilities except for my water bill which they say they thought was for trash and sewer only so they denied it. I have to file an appeal and can only start it through a link which they won’t send me. California is ridiculous, they people on drugs and don’t even have their own kids but won’t help people who really need it and work!!

  4. It’s all right We live in a small community of Avalon we all know each other here. and out of 35 people here on the island that have applied, they’re trying to deny and say nonresponsive on 22 of the cases so far and we keep fighting and fighting as of July 1 still fighting

  5. I applied and weeks later I got something in my email saying that i was missing documents so they sent me a task that needed to be completed. So I completed it but turned it in late I reached out the person in charge of the task to make sure it would still be accepted. I hadnt heard anything from them so I called, the person over the phone said it was completed and it was still in the process of being approved. I checked my emails occasionally and never got any emails from them. Months had gone by I had logged into to check my status and it said denied, with no reasoning what so ever! So i went over my emails just to make sure i didnt miss anything and nothing. I called and the guy on the phone so it doesnt say why I was denied so then I asked him how I would go about appealing and he said that it was past the 30 days. So long story short I left where I was living and had to move in with my brother and his family. What can I do about this?

  6. I spent months informing the alameda County erap program and coordinator about my situation. They knew I was applying because of uninhabitability retaliation both financially and legal, need for relocation and help with hotel payments and pg&e. A few weeks ago the tenant website said there was a pending payment of over $12,000 for the LL. Who is NOT owed rent. I emailed the coordinator protesting it. And got an email back saying I was denied because erap supposedly doesn’t cover my requests. I sent them proof from the treasury that it does. And said I wanted to appeal. Alameda County doesn’t have an appeal process. A week later I send them proof showing I know about the judges order regarding appeals. I get a response saying I was never denied. But I was. Their website said denied. It showed different reasons than what the coordinating agency stated. It said I hadn’t proven I was a tenant and submitted my lease. Which was false as well. The email said to contact my coordinator. I did several times no response. Then I checked my application on the tenant website. It showed a different coordinator( Centro Legal)and showed my application like I had just applied. So I communicated with Centro Legal for a few days. Then I got an email from someone new. A different agency. Telling me I wasn’t eligible. I asked for proof that the county could have a different set of rules than the US treasury. And the response was state legislation sb115. The state made new legislation and reallocated erap funds as loans to local agencies with new restrictions on funding spending. Effectively cutting me and countless others off from funds. Funds they had previously been about to hand over to a landlord who isn’t owed rent and has been breaking many laws harming my child and I. I need mission local to help speak up about this. Please

  7. I’m not informed I waited. Then I was told over I was denied they had no idea why,what. Then she’s ask me to appeal then she hanged up the phone.

  8. I applied in oct of 2021, I sent a copy of my rental agreement and everything else. I waited 7 months, called 2 times a month and they would tell me ” my app looks great and I’m in the final stages. Nope was denied, didn’t even get a email saying I was denied, went to check the status of my app to find out I was denied. When I called they would tell me” I don’t see anything on here on why u were denied, it should be in the email you got. I told them I haven’t received an email. What do you mean you didn’t receive an email. I didn’t receive no email. Oh well that’s weird. Well we have no info for you. You will just have to appeal it, but can’t find a appeal form anywhere. I still don’t be understand why I was denied but people I know that don’t pay rent just made fake stuff up, got approved.

  9. Iam a subtenant that was told to change the name of the head applicant and got denied for being a unqualified tenant. My son was the leaseholder who bailed on us 2019 . We have been paying rent since. And got evicted for squatting…. Now living in a hotel… Blackmailed by the landlord and she still won… Life flipped upside down over senseless greed

  10. I need someone to please listen to my rental denial! I’m 65 my app was denied for inconsistencies I was never told what they were. I never heard from anyone through the whole program. I called CS every week and was told my app was fine and they didn’t need anything else from me! Just to be patient! This went on for 8 months! When I called to complain I was denied. My LL opted out at the very beginning of this program. He is so upset he wants Me out. I’m afraid I’m going to have to go on the streets. Help me please

  11. I received a letter thru email stating that my application had been denied.
    The name on that letter was not mine and the address listed was somewhere in San Francisco I live in Hawthorne,CA case number was different,I m appealing my case at this moment I ask to have someone call me back from the appeal dept almost two months and no phone call nor any update on my case and calling the 1833 number is point less

  12. They act like they care but they don’t . They even tell you that just feel lucky if you are getting funds for your rental. Stop being so greedy and be grateful for any amount that you are awarded.

  13. Who do we call for help with this I’m in the same boat as the rest are help please

  14. A single mom of 3 I was denied but completed all task never received a denial email my account went from active to complete there for I assumes it was being processed.so I was being patient.called a few weeks later stating that I was denied.with no chance to appeal. I like to speak with a super visor or who ever is in charge

  15. they denied me as well I submitted my paperwork 4 times they even made me get a library card when i have a ca state id, and food stamp case proving income,( or lack there of) rent reciept, rent ledger, i sent all that. and they denied me saying i never gave a rent ledger. What I want to know is who to contact in california about this . I was wrongfully denied and denied on appeal also. I know I qualify. i know |I do. W|ho do I| contact for help with this . please ! I| have gotten nowhere with this . Can someone tell me ?

  16. I spent months and months communicating my situation to the erap person in charge of my application. Only to recieve a denial when I insisted that the landlord NOT be paid for rent according to what their falsified ledger stated was owed. LL recueved the rent every month in full from HUD. I didn’t apply for rent owed. So whe. I found out that ERAP planned on paying over $12,000 to the LL for back rent; I put my foot down. LL is a multi-billion corporation who got all fees and taxes waived by the City of Berkeley and built a substandard incorrectly constructed building during the pandemic. Intentionally built wrong. I recorded the builder saying exactly that and saying why the developer/LL wanted to do it so.
    ERAP and the city and the county and the housing authority and HCD are all in cahoots to con funds. And they’re getting away with it.

  17. I applied at housing is key 8 months ago I have waited and waited I called once a week for months they said everything is in order you in final review. I have been telling my landlord I would pay him the 14 months we owe. Now he thinks I’m a liar and going to evict me it’s not fair to deny someone after wasting all that time in review and saying everything looks good I’m really upset with the waiting game they put me through. I have appealed 34 days ago no one knows how long this takes . It’s not right!

  18. I have submitted everything. Then they asked for some things gs I have already gave but I’m denied until I appeal that they do have that information because she went straight to my files and said she does see it.. I have bee. Trying to appeal to let them know it is in my files and have gotten no where.. July 1 it’s over…I’m losing g my mind

  19. I applied for help with my power bill they are telling me they can not help me when I asked for help a long time ago if the money is there why not help

  20. I applied in 11-2021 and my case has been messed up from the beginning! from duplicate to status going back and forth between under review under QS REVIEW then back to application submitted. Today I found out one of my tenants have been denied and the other went from under QA review back to under review. That’s what happen to my Tennent that was denied so I can only assume the same will be founded for my other Tennent. NOT ONCE HAVE I HAD AN OPPORTUNITY TO DEAL WITH ANY PERSONS other than the people who answer the phone, and their explanation is different EVERY SINGLE TIME. NOT ONCE have the reps that answered the phone been accurate on their explanations. Is as if they make it up as they go. unbelievable to give someone hope of getting back on their feet only to feel like you end up in deeper waters than when starting this process. what an fing joke

  21. I want to know who’s in charge, I can’t even appeal yet ,by the time I know something it will be July and the program is gone. Its a federal program why are they not looking into why the state of California is doing this crap to us, like they did with edd.

  22. I sent additional information to my “caseworker” only to get back an email stating the address I sent it to was not valid. I used the address that was used to question my landlord, who thought I was lying to him, and this has created a lot of ill will between us. I sent them everything they could have possibly needed, including my landlords copy of a rent receipt from a month that I couldn’t locate. I am 62 and will be outdoors very soon if these people don’t respond positively. The rent man has had enough.

  23. I live in a motel, have for over a year. When unemployment ended i wasnt able to make the payments however thanking god my landlords let me stay because i will help out around thr motel and they were under the impression they would eventually get the money from me so they havr waited it out. I GOT DENIED BECAUSE I DIDNT HAVE ENOUGH EVIDENCE PROVING I LIVED THERE!!
    THE APPEAL LINK WAS GIVEN ONE TIME AND ONE TIME ONLY AFTER I OPENED IT ONCE IT WAS GONE AND HAVENT GOTTEN ANOTHER ONE DESPITE MY VALIANT EFFOTT TO EMAIL AND CALL AND EMAIL PROBABLY 15 EMAILS ASKING FOR ANOTHER APPEAL LINK TO FILL IT OUT. NO LUCK. SO NOW IM GETTING THROWN OUT ON THE STREET WITH MY LITTLE DOG. NOBODY WANTS TO HELP ME. I WANT TO DIE HONESTLY. I CANT UNDERSTAND HOW IM SO UNLUCKY.

  24. I applied in oct 2021 sent in my lease agreement and everything, they kept making my application go back and forth, back and forth for 7 months I waited for them to deny me when I would call they would tell me I should have got an email on why I was denied and I haven’t even received that I had to go and do an application status to find out I was denied. which I don’t even understand why I was denied because every time I called they would tell me everything looked good everything was going great then all of a sudden I’m denied and now my landlord wants to kick me out because she thinks I lied. Housing is key/Neighborly software don’t help people, and if they do they help people that lie to them and tell them that they have apartments with rent and they don’t ,they just want the money to go spend and enjoy. Housing is key/neighborly software DON’T HELP the people that really do need help.

  25. I’m going through it now, .the case manager keeps asking me of proof of ownership , I have sent him the deed and tax rolls 4 times, and he asked again today. He is hoping that I fail to respond so he can claim Iack of interest. Now I found out it got sent to the investigation team . They are making it as hard as they can .its not right

  26. Same issue…my application states pending and duplicate application. When I only entered one application. The fist application glitched wen downloading documents so had to start new one to download information . Only one submitted application yet system shows two.
    Also never same representative and no help they just state there’s a back log. I applied dec 23, 2021. Have not received an answer.

  27. I’m a landlord and my tenant and I applied in June 2021. At first they attached the wrong person to my file, it took months to remove. We waited forever, finally it said pending payment, then denied. They couldn’t verify the info! No one had ever contacted either of us! He appealed over 60 days ago and we r still waiting!

  28. I have this same problem and I also had to appeal once I saw the amounts were incorrect and my appeal was denied saying . I didn’t qualify but I did qualify they processed my application incorrectly and didn’t pay for two months of rent or my utilities I appealed and was told the appeal is final. When my EDD ran out I requested assistance. I completely qualified and my apartment management participated in the program so they sent the ledgers and the documentation.

    1. I’m also in the same boat. 2-1/2 years since I applied. I was calling in once a week to check status and was told all my paper work was submitted and was told my paperwork was perfect. Then I get a rejection claiming I was missing paperwork that i had an email from them thanking me for submitting my paperwork and my approval should come any day now. 2-1/2 years!